Oscar-nominated actress Karen Black has been battling ampullary cancer for more than two years and has now turned to crowdfunding to raise money to undergo experimental treatment in Europe.
Black, the 73-year-old actress who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in “Five Easy Pieces,” was diagnosed with ampullary cancer in November 2010. She’s undergone treatments and, at one point, was even diagnosed as cancer-free. However, according to her husband, Stephen Eckelberry, Black’s health has turned for the worse this year with the cancer back in full force. Nowadays, she is "mostly bed-bound" and down to 96 pounds from 156, he said.
"Karen has been confronting the fact that she would die soon if she didn’t do something," her husband said.
With few options left, not to mention dwindling funds, Eckelberry started a campaign on GoFundMe called "Help Karen Beat Cancer" to raise funds for her only option left: a two-month experimental cancer treatment in Europe. According to Eckelberry, the pair have used up all of their money since Black was diagnosed, prompting him to start the GoFundMe site on March 14.
"So here is the big question: Why would someone like Karen need money?" Eckelberry wrote in the campaign. "Yes, she was an actress in movies, but most of the high-paying work dwindled out many years ago. She has a modest pension and medical insurance (thank goodness), but as anyone knows who has fought cancer, that is not enough. We have nothing left. And the European treatment is not covered by insurance."
The campaign has been a great success for Black, having raised more than $36,000 of its $32,000 goal for Black’s treatment as of Tuesday afternoon.
“Everybody thank you so much for the donations and kind thoughts. Karen and are touched beyond belief,” a message on the site read. “It's so great to know she can make this trip. I promise to keep everybody updated. Any additional money that is raised beyond our goal will go towards my going with her. THIS IS AMAZING THANK YOU SO MUCH.”
Actors like Alan Cumming have also come to Black’s aid, sharing their thoughts on Twitter to support the actress.
"PLEASE HELP! The legend Karen Black has cancer and can't afford treatment that will save her life," Cumming wrote on Twitter.
Since her diagnosis in November 2010, Black has had a third of her pancreas removed and was declared disease-free in mid-2011. Since then, though, she had a tumor removed in December 2011 and underwent two operations this year alone since the cancer returned.
While Eckelberry was mum about the details of the treatment, he said doctors have approved the experimental procedure for Black.
"Karen's family physician of many years called us two weeks ago and told us of success she has had with several of her patients doing a treatment in Europe as part of a clinical study there,” he wrote. “I cannot go into more details now, but I promise I will in the future as we get involved. I will say that this is a medically supervised program and it targets Karen's kind of cancer. In fact, we personally know two of the patients that have had remarkable recoveries from cancer there. So we know it works, and right now it is her best and only shot."
Black’s form of cancer, called ampullary cancer, is “rare and similar to pancreatic and bile duct cancers.” According to The Mayo Clinic, the cancer is located where the bile duct and pancreatic duct meet and can block bile from flowing through the bile ducts and into the small intestine, causing the skin and eyes to turn yellow (jaundice) and other symptoms.
Karen Black is best known for her Oscar-nominated role for Best Supporting Actress in 1970’s "Five Easy Pieces" alongside Jack Nicholson. She is also known for her roles in classic films like "Airport 1975," "The Day of the Locust" and "Nashville,” and, more recently, Rob Zombie’s 2003 horror film “House of 1000 Corpses.”